Thai Impressions

DSC_0508Thailand was never a place I wanted to visit. I yearn for some destinations, dream of them, plan holidays in future years but Thailand has never made that list. Not sure why.

Then, my mother in law bought a house there, and suddenly it was the next destination. That was four years ago and we have just been back for our second holiday. How do I feel about the country now? I could live there, permanently, without giving it a second thought! Why? Well, the list is long but topping it….it has to be….it has to be:

  • The Food. It has to be the food that tops the list! The colours, the flavours, the philosophy under which meals are prepared, the scents that tickle your nostrils and massage your palette. Amazing. If you dare to let go and try things that look strange; things that come out of odd leaves, containers and pots then you are in for a treat.
  • The People. Respectful, not pushy, at peace, not stressed, happy, kind, accommodating. Always a smile, always ready to help. We have a lot to learn in the west
  • The Weather. Average 30 degrees C in February. Nice. No further comment.
  • The Activities. Diving, kite boarding, snorkelling, go-karting, fishing, cooking classes, animal shows, morning market, night markets, fish markets, walk-in streets, trekking to tops of water falls and skinny dipping in them, riding elephants…. We did all of these and could easily have done more.

We took a few hours worth of cooking lessons from a fabulous Thai lady who ran a much acclaimed Thai Restaurant in Australia for 20 years. Short, stout, strict, and bossy as anything, but passionate about ingredients. About when to stir and when to leave, about pestle and mortar, about using every little bit of the raw materials – out of respect for both nature and the client who is to eat the dish. From the lesson came three dishes and I will share them on the blog. Mouth-watering yet so simple and quick to cook!

Before I start recipe writing I want to share my favourites pictures from our trip. Hopefully they will draw you in and let you feel just a little of the magic that is Thailand. It truly is a place where your soul can rest and re-fresh; when you have time to think and focus; a place where stress does not seem to exist and most importantly, to a food lover like I am, a place where the food you find at little road stands is simply divine and different. Where the best local restaurants are nothing more than a wok on fire and you walk through the chef’s living room to be seated. Completely different; completely fabulous!

Enjoy the gallery….and share your experiences! Have you been to Thailand? What was your best bit?

Pomegranate #4 – Fennel, Orange and Pomegranate Salad

If you are scared of fennel and/or believe you do not like it – try this recipe! It will bring you round to the absolutely gorgeous fresh and crunchy taste that is fennel and you will never look back!

A few words about fennel, if nothing else than to broaden the mind and make you appreciate this little, fat, white bulb!

  • Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, strongly flavoured leaves and fruits and its aniseed flavour comes from anethol, an aromatic compound also found in star anise. Its taste and aroma is therefore similar to this, though not as strong.
  • Health benefits of fennel include relief from anemia, indigestion, wind, constipation, colic, diarrhea, respiratory disorders and menstrual disorders.
  • Using fennel in food helps protect eyes from inflammation this due to the presence of both ani oxidants and vitamin C which are both very beneficial for the rejuvenation of tissues and prevention of aging – read more about vitamin C here and anti oxidants here).
  • If you suffer from indigestion, or bad breath (or both!), try chewing fennel seeds after your meal – this is apparently common in India.

I have used a few recipes as inspiration (telegraph, bbc, woman’s hour website) but combined my own favourite bits to make this a really stunning starter, a quick lunch or even an afternoon bite of food (if you are going to be having a late dinner maybe?)

The best thing about the recipe is the seasonality of it – it is a real winter salad with oranges being at their best at the moment, and fennel readily available. Furthermore the children love the sweet crunch – and it looks beautiful with the emerald pomegranate seeds scattered around. It is bright and fresh, in taste and colour, and will bring a smile to your face.

Fennel, Orange and Pomegranate Salad

1 fennel bulb – medium – washed, centre removed
2 oranges
Seeds of 1/2 a pomegranate
Lump of feta cheese
 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp runny honey
 
(fresh chilli is a lovely addition as are a few fresh mint sprigs)
 
  • Wash the fennel bulb and core it – this is easily done by cutting the bulb in half and removing core as you would that of an apple
  • Slice the fennel thinly – julienne style strips – and throw them in a bowl
  • Peel the oranges with a knife removing all of the white pith. Cut in between the membranes to release each small section of orange – do this over the fennel bowl so as to catch the juices as they drip
  • Break the feta into small pieces and throw into the fennel bowl
  • Clean and prepare the pomegranate seeds (read more here) and add to the bowl
  • In a jar combine the olive oil lemon juice, red wine vinegar and honey and shake – pour this dressing over the salad and toss gently
  • Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled – if you want to, add the mint for presentation and flavour and the chilli for an extra kick! It is lovely on its own but also gorgeous with fish or meat.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Once you have scooped out all the flesh from your pumpkin – do not discard the seeds! They make a super tasty and healthy snack!

  • Scoop out the seeds once you are carving your pumpkin and save them
  • Wash them in a bowl and remove any flesh – guess who will love this job!!?? Little ones…Big bowl and a little water…they will be at it for a while!
  • If you have no patience for the children doing it then fill a bowl of water and dump the seeds and left over flesh into it. Stir it for a few minutes and you will find that the seeds automatically come to the surface – simply scoop them out!
  • Lay them on a tea towel over night to dry
  • When dry, place them in a bowl and toss them in any (or all) of the below:
    • olive oil
    • soya sauce
    • garlic powder
    • chilli
  • Place them on a baking sheet on a tray and bake them at 120C for about 30 minutes tossing every 15-20 minutes to ensure they don’t burn
  • Once done, let them cool completely!
  • They are lovely and crisp and a great source of protein!
  • Will keep in the fridge for months – but probably won’t last a day!!!

Chilli and Lemon Prawns

This is stunning! The combination of flavours is perfect! Probably one for the grown ups unless you have a chilli loving child!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp runny honey
Handful of fresh parsley
1/2 an onion
3 cloves garlic
Small piece of cinnamon stick – about a third
1cm ginger root grated
1 fresh chilli – large red one – or several of the tiny red ones
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 stick of lemon grass cut into smaller pieces
Salt to season

Olive oil to cook

  • Place all ingredients except prawns, lemon juice and zest and lemon grass in a food processor and blend until finely chopped
  • Add lemon zest, juice and lemon grass pieces and stir by hand
  • Peel prawns leaving tail on – remove any veins. Place in glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the sauce (stir to cover evenly). Season slightly with a bit of salt.
  • Place in the fridge for 2 hours to marinade
  • Before frying -remove lemon grass
  • Heat oil in pan/wok and add prawns. High heat – stir fry for 5 minutes
  • Serve with sticky rice, on top of sald or with the lemon linguini (in recipe section). Hey, they are so good you can even eat them as a snack on their own – but that might just be a bit indulgent….